I was the right age to enjoy the revival of half-hour TV anthology series about the odd, inexplicable, or spooky in the mid- to late 1980s: Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories, new series of The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Tales from the Darkside, and eventually Tales from the Crypt. I may have seen one too many of these shows, because the genre seems a little tired to me. Watching Snoop Dogg's Hood of Horror, which combines three such stories into one feature-length film, I felt like I'd seen most of it before, except without the fancy trimmings and gore.
In lieu of the Cryptkeeper, Snoop Dogg links three morality tales with some gruesome aspects added for thrills. Snoop Dogg is actually playing a character, the Hound of Hell, as explained in the pre-credits animated sequence. A street kid named Devon lands himself in a lot of trouble, and eventually sacrifices his life to save his sister. As a result, he becomes one of the caretakers of the Hood of Horror, who ushers the souls of the wicked into the next life, and is also required to be a sharp dresser. As animation turns into live action, Devon turns into Snoop Dogg with a HoH tattoo on his neck to remind us that he's now a Hound of Hell. Other than the tattoo, however, the character does not appear to be a big acting stretch for the rap star.
Hood of Horror's first story is about Posie (Daniella Alonso), a teenage tagger/artist who harbors a need to avenge her brother's death by a local gang. Posie is helpless to fight against the gang until a mysterious stranger (Danny Trejo) shows up to give her a boost. In the second segment, a stereotypical Texas redneck white couple (Brande Roderick and Anson Mount) are forced by an inheritance provision to live in a home for retired African-American veterans. They take full advantage of the situation, treating the residents like servants ... but the vets, led by Roscoe (Ernie Hudson) decide to strike back. The final segment is about a young, successful rapper (Pooch Hall) with an unscrupulous past that finally catches up with him, as he is trapped by supernatural authorities (Lin Shaye) and made to face his crimes.
Of the three tales, the middle story was the most successful. Posie's story begins well, and of course, the minute Danny Trejo appeared onscreen, the audience was psyched and ready for something exciting. Unfortunately, the ending was rather a letdown. The third story was predictable from the first minute; the only bright spot was Lin Shaye's character. But the second story was bolstered by a terrific performance from Ernie Hudson. In addition, I realized about midway through the story that it could easily be seen as a metaphor for the Bush administration's effects. I'm not sure if that was intentional, but I'd be surprised if it wasn't. (The rednecks are in fact from Texas, and their last name is Woods.) In addition, there's a certain pleasure in watching reverse stereotyping: The African-American characters are well-drawn, and we empathize with them; but the white characters are cartoonish stereotypes of trashy rednecks who have sex while "Cotton-Eyed Joe" plays in the background.
For horror-movie fans, the best aspect of Hood of Horror may be the death scenes: No one keels over and passes away in a boring manner in this movie. Every death is over-the-top gruesomely funny. I got a particular kick out of the death involving a 40-ounce bottle. (Naturally, one character's reaction is,"What a waste ... of beer.") This is where the combination of horror and comedy works best, because it's such an easy and effective way to combine the two, but the film sadly does not sustain this level of dark humor. The R rating is definitely for violence, not sexual content: there are a few non-graphic sex scenes and a couple of glimpses of bare breasts. The film has a strong sense of morality: the bad guys die in these horrible ways, but what constitutes a "bad guy" is sometimes flimsy. For example, Posie's fate seems disproportionately harsh, considering the circumstances.
Unfortunately, the direction and script are often confusing, with little consideration for details. Posie's out to avenge someone's death, but is it her brother or her boyfriend? And what does her family's death have to do with this? Also, I never quite understood the whole backstory on Devon, pre-Hound of Hell. And the film has no climactic scene ... it just ends. You'd think that in a movie hosted by a well-known rapper, the music would be something special, but the soundtrack has a curious lack of energy.
Hood of Horror is set in inner-city neighborhoods, and most of its cast is African-American. That's a refreshing change from the usual white, middle-class, teenage cast of many contemporary horror films. In addition, most of the female characters have a strong presence and aren't merely screaming victims or pretty faces (although Snoop Dogg is flanked by what can only be described as vampire ho's). However, ultimately Hood of Horror is a predictable, cheesy attempt at "splatstick" that doesn't quite work. I think the ideal viewing situation for the film would be at a drive-in on a double-bill with Bordello of Blood.